Nearly 3 dozen who attended Arkansas church event test positive for coronavirus

"Maybe you assumed that it couldn’t happen to you, just like I did," the church pastor wrote in a Facebook post.

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By Janelle Griffith

Nearly three dozen people who attended a recent children's event at a church in Arkansas have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to church officials.

Donald Shipp, a deacon at First Assembly of God church in Greers Ferry, about 75 miles north of Little Rock, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that 34 people who attended the event in early March at the Cleburne County church had tested positive for the coronavirus, and that an unknown number of others were awaiting test results.

Danyelle McNeill, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Health, said a number of coronavirus cases have been associated with a church in Cleburne County, which she did not identify.

"We are still investigating newly reported cases and can’t definitively say they are all connected to one church," McNeill told NBC News on Thursday. "This is a cluster within a larger outbreak in that area of the state."

There were at least 310 reported coronavirus cases and two deaths in Arkansas as of Thursday morning.

Mark Palenske, a pastor at the church, said in a lengthy Facebook post late last week that he and his wife, Dena, were among those to test positive for COVID-19.

He said that when such a virus spreads on the other side of the world, "your first inclination is to assume that time and distance are on your side."

But "that false assumption" recently caught up with him and his wife, he said.

The couple and dozens of others from their church initially could not get tested, according to Palenske.

"One local doctor had a very small number of commercial tests and the rest is history, I suppose," he wrote.

He said that before even receiving positive test results, the church had followed medical advice and canceled services.

The couple's symptoms began with headaches followed by intense body aches and lethargy, as well as waves of chills, sweating and nausea, Palenske wrote in his post.

"Dena had a very scary morning a few days ago, which included a seizure of sorts and required hospitalization," he said.

His wife's condition has since improved and they are both back home, he said. Palenske said he could not pinpoint "where the virus came from."

"Even though we were the original positives, there are people who have been sick longer than we have," he said. "It clearly made its way through a special weekend of children’s ministry at our church."

He requested that people pray for health care workers, and he advised that people "take this medical threat more seriously."

"Maybe you assumed that it couldn’t happen to you, just like I did," he wrote. "Please adhere to the social instructions that you are receiving locally and nationally."